Building a compass plane

compass plane

A compass plane is a tool for carving out concave surfaces, like chair seats and boat parts. However, until recently I have not really considered buying or making one because I was always able to find a work around.

When I started building stools and chairs though, I got more serious about adding some tools to my kit. Travishers and inshaves are traditional tools for chair building, but again good ones are very expensive. And I was wondering how often I was actually going to use one of these tools. Then I watched Paul Sellers build a simple compass plane on his Masterclass site and got inspired.

Step One – The Blade

In Paul Sellers’ video he made the blade as well the plane. I was not really up for this kind of thing so I used an old block plane blade I had laying around since the 80’s for the core of this project. The rest of the plane body was just Maple scrap I had laying around.

The beauty of a project like this is that it does not take much material. It is pretty much all fun and very little risk.

The only innovation that I added was in the shaping of this plane. I have made a bunch of planes over the years. Along the way I have developed some pretty strong opinions of what makes a plane nice or terrible to use. How a plane fits in your hands is very high on the list of important traits for any plane.

Shaping the body of the plane

This is a small plane, which means that in use it will need to be gripped in a variety of ways. What’s more this plane is designed to work in unusually shaped material, which means frequently changing direction and orientation of the tool. The grip on the tool above is very intentional, not an attempt to look cool. It is a very right handed tool to begin with. The thumb notch you see on the right hand side of the picture above (the left hand side of the tool) is designed to catch my left thumb when I am holding this plane in a conventional way. When held in this way my left forefinger runs over the top and into the notch on the other side.

When more force is needed the groove along the top is for the edge of my left hand as I cup my left hand over the chip escapement. And finally that same groove will accommodate my right forefinger tip when I am using the plane one handed. I am very pleased with this plane body. It feels good almost any way you would want to hold it in use. The only quibble I still have is that I still need to round the corners off of the blade a bit more. This will make it more comfortable when I am using it one handed.

Hope this inspires you to try. It is not as hard as it seems. The video at Paul sellers site is available with a free sign-up so have a look at that as well.